William Charles Macready (3 March 1793 – 27 April 1873) was an English actor.
He was born in London the son of William Macready the elder, and the actress Christina Ann Birch. Educated at Rugby School, it was his initial intention to go to University of Oxford, but in 1809 financial problems experienced by his father, the lessee of several provincial theatres, called him to share the responsibilities of theatrical management. On 7 June 1810 he made a successful first appearance as Romeo at Birmingham. Other Shakespearian parts followed, but a serious rupture between father and son resulted in the young man’s departure for Bath in 1814. Here he remained for two years, with occasional professional visits to other provincial towns.
On 16 September 1816, Macready made his first London appearance at Covent Garden as Orestes in The Distressed Mother, a translation of Racine’s Andromaque by Ambrose Philips. Macready’s choice of characters was at first confined chiefly to the romantic drama. In 1818 he won a permanent success in Isaac Pocock’s (1782–1835) adaptation of Scott’s Rob Roy. He showed his capacity for the highest tragedy when he played Richard III at Covent Garden on 25 October 1819.
Transferring his services to Drury Lane, he gradually rose in public favour, his most conspicuous success being in the title role of Sheridan Knowles’s William Tell (11 May 1825). In 1826 he completed a successful engagement in the United States, and in 1828 his performances met with a very flattering reception in Paris. In 1829 he appeared as Othello in Warwick.On 15 December 1830 he appeared at Drury Lane as Werner, one of his most powerful impersonations. In 1833 he played in Antony and Cleopatra, in Byron’s Sardanapalus, and in King Lear. He was responsible, in 1834, and more fully in 1838, for returning the text of King Lear to Shakespeare’s text (although in a shortened version), after it had been replaced for more than a hundred and fifty years by Nahum Tate’s happy-ending adaptation, The History of King Lear.
Macready playing ‘Macbeath’ : The first production of Bulwer-Lytton’s Money took place under the artistic direction of Count d’Orsay on 8 December 1840, Macready winning unmistakable success in the character of Alfred Evelyn. Both in his management of Covent Garden, which he resigned in 1839, and of Drury Lane, which he held from 1841 to 1843, he found his designs for the elevation of the stage frustrated by the absence of adequate public support. In 1843 he staged Cymbeline. In 1843–1844 he made a successful tour in the United States, but his last visit to the country in 1849 was marred by a riot at the Astor Opera House, New York, arising from the jealousy of the actor Edwin Forrest, and resulting in the death of twenty-three people and injured a hundred, who were shot by the militia called out to quell the disturbance; Judge Charles Patrick Daly later presided at the trial. Both Forrest and Macready were playing Macbeth in concurrent, competing productions at the time of the riot, a fact which added to the ominous reputation of that play. American playwright Richard Nelson dramatized the events surrounding the riot in his 1990 play Two Shakespearean Actors.Macready took leave of the stage in a farewell performance of Macbeth at Drury Lane on 26 February 1851. The remainder of his life was spent in happy retirement, and he died at Cheltenham on 27 April 1873.
He married twice, firstly in 1823 to Catherine Frances Atkins (d. 1852). Of a numerous family of children only one son and one daughter survived. In 1860, aged 67 he married the 23 year old Cecile Louise Frederica Spencer (1827–1908), by whom he had a son, Nevil Macready.
Macready’s remains were deposited in the catacomb below the Anglican Chapel at Kensal Green Cemetery.
In 1927 the Cheltenham Local Tablets Committee placed a bronze tablet at No. 6 Wellington Square recording Macready’s residence there from 1860-73.
Macready’s performances always displayed fine artistic perceptions developed to a high degree of perfection by very comprehensive culture, and even his least successful personal turns had the interest resulting from thorough intellectual study. When Macready retired, Alfred Tennyson dedicated to him the following verse:
“Farewell, Macready, since to-night we part:
Full-handed thunders often have confessed
Thy power, well used to move the public breast.
We thank thee with one voice, and from the heart.
Farewell, Macready, since this night we part.
Go take thine honours home; rank with the best;
Garrick, and statelier Kemble, and the rest,
Who made a nation purer through their art.
Thine is it that the drama did not die.
Nor flicker down to brainless pantomime.
And those gilt gauds men-children swarm to see.
Farewell, Macready; moral, grave, sublime,
Our Shakespeare’s bland and universal eye
Dwells pleased, through twice a hundred years on thee.”